B. Craig Grafton
Always filling, always paying on time, Joseph P. Denizen, faithful taxpayer, couldn't understand how he suddenly now owed the IRS a ton of money. Taking off his glasses, he closed his eyes, shook his head in disbelief, and read the letter again. He came to the conclusion that they had left him no choice. He would have to do battle with them. The IRS had said he owed it. The burden was on him to prove that he didn't.
Recently retired he didn't need all this stress. He was old and his health was failing. He had sold his business, filed his last corporate return, paid what was due and dissolved the corporation. That should have been the end of it.
But no. About six months later he got the letter, basically a form letter, summed up it read as follows: "You have failed to make your corporate quarterly estimated payments for blah, blah, blah, blah. Penalties and interest totaling blah, blah blah blah blah are now due. A payment slip and envelope are enclosed for your convenience."
He knew from one prior experience that failure to get your payroll deposit in on time was costly. The penalty and interest for failing to do so was worse than anything organized crime would charge for failing to pay. That time it was his fault and he swallowed hard and paid it. This time it was a different tax but not his fault.
His tax preparer confirmed his belief that he didn't owe this money. The reason why was obvious to both of them and they came to the conclusion that it was best for Joe to deal directly with the IRS. So Joe Denizen plodded onward.
Once more he reviewed the letter and on it there was a phone number if you had any questions. Encouraged he dialed and finally after being on hold forever, twenty one minutes actually, he had timed it, he got the typical bored put out federal employee. She gave him a name. It probably wasn't her real name but he wrote it down anyway along with the date of the call, the time on hold, the starting time of their conversation and began taking notes.
She looked up his file and informed him quite bluntly, "Sir, you owe the money. If you wish for a payment plan I can help you. I cannot change the amount due. What do you wish to do?"
"But I don't owe it," pleaded Joe Denizen and then proceeded to explain to her why. She listened politely and patiently but from her nonplussed response he could tell that she had no knowledge or understanding of the tax codes. She had no idea what he was talking about. She was a collection agent and her sole purpose was therefore to collect money and do nothing else. That was how she was trained. So he gave up, defeated, tired of listening to her mechanical sounding voice and hung up on her as she was reciting the mandated mantra, immediately regretting this action, fearing there would be payback later.
Frustrated he reread the letter a third time finding the third time charm. There it was. It said if one wishes to appeal this decision do the following, blah blah, blah, blah, blah and send the appeal to an office in Salt Lake City Utah.
This was his next step. He knew that when dealing with the IRS one did it their way or the highway. Therefore he gathered all the documentation requested and composed his letter explaining his position which read as follows:
Please find enclosed copies of my corporation's last year's tax returns as per your instructions.
Please note that I have highlighted on the returns in yellow the following two boxes: Short Year Return and Final Return as they were so shown on the original returns.
Please note that my corporate fiscal year ran from May 1st to April 30th. I was not on the standard calendar year of January 1st to December 31st as you believe. Your review of my previous year's filings should verify this and I have enclosed a copy of your letter of approval of my election for a corporate fiscal year. Therefore no calendar year estimated payments for April, June and September are due.
Furthermore, I have made all my corporate fiscal year estimated payments to the date of my final and short year return. Copies of those forms and checks are enclosed. This is my final corporate return covering the period from May 1st to February 29th, the date of my retirement. Therefore, no further estimated corporate tax payments were due.
My returns were clearly designated as 'short year' and 'final return' which as I said before I have highlighted in yellow on the enclosed copies. My corporation is now dissolved.
Please confirm the above and be kind enough to remove all penalties and interest and send me confirmation of the same. Thank you etc. etc. signed.
To Joe Denizen it was obvious that someone hadn't been paying attention and that there was no reason why he should have to go through all this and point out the obvious to them. Furthermore, there was no reason that he should have to send them any copies of his returns or records as they had all these on their computers.
Despite all this he was not hopeful. It was against the odds to think the IRS would admit to a mistake but he mailed it anyway.
Months and months went by and to taxpayer Joe Denizen's way of thinking, no news was good news. This is their way of silently agreeing with him he thought and thus they have dropped the matter. After all, he had received no threatening demand letters for payment. The matter had to be resolved.
But Joe Denizen was wrong. A little over a year later it came, the dreaded letter from the IRS from Salt Lake City. His heart pounding, he read it.
"Dear Taxpayer: After further review we find that no estimated payments were due and therefore we have removed such amounts and all penalties and interest previously due on your last return. Your bill is enclosed."
There it was, short and sweet and sour, no admission, no signature, no name even typed telling who sent the letter and there was another bill. Another bill? Are they crazy? How could that be?
The bill was typed on the same form as before. Send payment to Cincinnati again. And there was no explanation as to how the amount due was calculated.
Joe however knew the real reason for the bill. It was to let him know he couldn't win against the IRS and get away with it. The bill was for twenty cents. Twenty cents! Someone there had a good chuckle or two typing that one up. This was the IRS's way of letting him know that they run the show here, not him. That they still have power over him, his life.
Joe's first instinct was to appeal the twenty cent bill. He was fighting mad again. If he didn't owe any estimated payments, how could he owe interest or penalties and therefore how could he even owe twenty cents. He wanted to fight back but he chose wisely and let discretion be the better part of valor. He capitulated. He wrote a check for twenty cents. On it in big bold letters on the memo part he wrote "PAID IN FULL." It had taken them over a year to send him a bill for twenty cents. Sealing the envelope he smiled thinking it's a miracle that they didn't charge him any interest.
He knew that he had done the right thing. If he hadn't have paid it they would have assessed him fines, penalties, and interest, quickly bringing the sum due to a couple hundred dollars. Then they would have used all the collection methods available as outlined in their letter, garnishment, attachment, liens, deduction from tax refunds and or social security, denial of federal benefits, etc. etc. By paying it he actually had outsmarted them. He hadn't risen to the bait and he took that as a victory.
Next month Joe got his bank statement showing his twenty cent check had cleared. Case closed. He filed away his final corporate tax return and records in the attic and there they stayed until he died a few years later. Then his executor started going through his uncle's records because when it came for the estate to sell the house, the title work showed an IRS tax lien for $.20. Of course it had to be paid to clear the title. The executor could not understand how this happened since he found proof that this was paid and just like his uncle he wanted to fight it. But the attorney for the estate advised against it.
"Just pay the damn lien from the sale proceeds," he said. "It's easier and cheaper than fighting them. Besides it will take forever dealing with the IRS, the closing is coming up in three weeks, and nobody ever wins against the IRS anyway."
"But my uncle did once," the executor reminded the attorney.
"No he didn't. They got him in the long run. They always do. Pay it."
Therefore on the day of closing the sum of $359.73 was deducted from the sale proceeds and paid to the IRS to get the lien released. This of course included all penalties, fines and interest to date.
This was also the day that Joseph P. (P is for Publius) Denizen rolled over in his grave.
B. Craig Grafton is a retired attorney whose stories have appeared in Romance Magazine, The Fable Online, The Zodiac Review and Heater and Frontier Tales. His most recent stories can be found in the Scarlet Leaf Review.